Introduction to Alexander Technique – It’s Not Posture

Most people know Alexander Technique as something about posture, or something to remove muscle tension or aches.

It can have those effects, but that’s not what I’ll be discussing here.

This article explains it as a way of thinking, a way to approach action of all sorts (whether mental or physical), and as a way of improving your interaction with the world.

I explain, as briefly as I can, the theory behind Alexander Technique. In particular, I cover: awareness, non-doing, inhibition, and intention — plus some practical remarks. To get a gut-level sense of what I’m talking about and be able to do some of it in practice, I strongly recommend trying the (quick n easy!) linked exercises.

I am not trained, so take this with salt. These ideas come from conversations with and tweets by Michael Ashcroft, plus my own thinking.


i. Awareness

Awareness is what you’re aware of, what your attention is available for, what you’re keeping track of or tabs on.

An object outside your awareness can’t be responded to — at least not directly — because when you’re unaware of something, you don’t know it exists or is there right now.

The same goes for mental objects. You can have thoughts or processes in your mind that other parts of your mind are not aware of.

When you are aware of objects, you can account for them. You can avoid banging your head on an open cupboard, or avoid banging your mind on an uncomfortable thought.

Awareness has a size: it can be expanded to include the whole room, or contracted to just these words you’re reading.

Expanding awareness makes it easier to deal with things as they come. It allows one to be more dynamically responsive to stimuli, new information, events, unexpected things. Awareness helps give you space between a stimulus and your reaction to it. (It feels like there’s more physical space between you and the thing — instead of you and the thing kind of being merged as one reactive entity, as if you can’t do anything but respond to it in a certain way.)

Contracted/collapsed awareness means that you won’t immediately notice things outside that point of awareness, so won’t be able to respond to them until they catch your attention. (vs everything being covered by your attention)

Awareness can change how ‘close’ an object or problem feels. When awareness is collapsed to the space immediately around you, it feels harder to get up and pick up something from the other side of the room. If you expand your awareness to cover the entire room, then even if the object is on the other side of the room, it can feel easy to pick up.

Likewise with mental objects: if a problem or emotion feels overwhelming, it can feel as though we’ve become the problem or emotion; we’re inside it; it almost feels like there is nothing else; it dominates our mental attention. Eugene Gendlin in his book Focusing describes how you can distance yourself from your problems just enough that you can think about them clearly, while still giving them your attention. Expanded awareness is how you do this. It allows you to have a more ‘objective’ or ‘outside’ view of yourself, your problems, and your environment. It feels as though things are close enough to see in vivid detail, but not so close they obscure your vision.

But unlike certain(!) meditative practices, there’s no dissociation. Alexander Technique is inherently anti-dissociative. A mental object becomes just one of many objects, both mental and physical, included in your awareness.

Awareness in this sense is primarily physical, secondarily mental. Whereas, in many meditation practices, I understand this to be flipped. In meditation, you’re expanding awareness of your inner thoughts/mind; in Alexander Technique, you’re expanding awareness of the physical space around you.

Expanding this kind of awareness is learnable, via fairly simple exercises. It may take practice/study to get the hang of it and make it your default state. (But once you can do it without conscious attention, especially when combined with “non-doing” described below, really cool things can happen: increased sense of peace, decreased muscular tension, improved memory, ease of movement, etc.)

All this includes awareness of your own body — but many people find it more difficult to change awareness size in/around the body. (For example, I initially found it very difficult to put my awareness inside my skull while at the same time having it include the rest of the room.) Awareness of your body helps with movement, muscle tension, performances like public speaking or music, and can even help with knowing how you’re feeling and what you want.

Practising this kind of physical awareness helps with things like muscle tension and posture as a byproduct. Alexander Technique is not about posture — posture ‘just happens’ when you have expanded awareness.

It’s kind of nuts, actually: you can see how expanded or contracted someone’s awareness is just from their body language.

It isn’t only your own body you can be aware of. This state of mind allows you to more easily pick up on how other people are feeling and thinking, while still having space for thinking about your own things. It helps you read and understand people.

To try out expanding your awareness with a simple exercise, see: Michael Ashcroft’s thread on awareness.

ii. Pause

When you’re aware of a stimulus, instead of reacting to it unthinkingly (or react to it over-thinkingly), you can pause, and decline your first reaction, and wait, and see what else comes up.

In Alexander Technique, the exercise is to not do these first reactions… and indeed, to not ‘do’ anything. (More on this below.)

This is also like expanding awareness in time. If your normal reaction is stimulus→response, you can expand your awareness to notice the stimulus and then you have space to either react or decline that reaction.

The pause is where you can give consent to a reaction, or not. We spend a lot of time just going with our first reactions, which may contain inner conflicts or tension. Acting while you have a conflict is uncomfortable, yet happens all the time. Our first reaction may not represent all of our opinions and desires.

This is much like how ‘true/authentic self-expression’ is not just saying the first thing that comes to your head — because that may or may not be what is most true to you. We can feel loss of self-expression both in situations where we just go with the first thing that pops into our head (feels out of control, inaccurate to deeper thoughts/feelings), or where we only say what we think is ‘proper’ to say (feels like it denies part of ourselves). True self-expression is about having free choice in what you express, instead of railroaded into a narrow band of expression.

Pausing gives you space to make decisions using your full (body)mind.

iii. Non-doing

AKA non-trying AKA wu wei AKA effortless action AKA not end-gaining AKA declining/choosing to consent to reactions AKA spontaneity

Instead of reacting, what do you do? You don’t. Or rather, you non-do.

This phrase comes from wu wei, a concept from Taoism, which is the idea that you don’t need to consciously deliberately do action, but rather you can ‘let action happen’. It’s a state of mind where you are not consciously aware of how or what you’re doing, but your body is moving — effortlessly.

Fortunately, despite how vague(-yet-cool) it sounds, this is also very learnable, in a practical way. (You don’t need thousands of hours of study with a Chinese master to get it!)

Non-doing could be thought of as non-trying. Can you pick up a ball without trying to pick up the ball? It sounds contradictory, but it turns out that there is a specific behaviour we do when we are “trying”, and this behaviour is unnecessary to pick up the ball.

How is this possible? Well, consider when you’ve picked up something to fiddle with without realising. You didn’t consciously intend for it to end up in your hand, but there it is. There was an effortlessness to it.

Now, that’s a case where you’re unconscious of it and just reacting. Maybe you picked it up because you’re nervous. In this case, perhaps the reason you picked it up without noticing is that it was outside your zone of awareness. You may have been paying attention to a conversation, and not your hands.

But this kind of non-‘deliberate’ effortless action needn’t be automatic and unchosen, like a nervous fiddling habit; nor need it require redirected attention / collapsed awareness, like not noticing you picked up the object. You can be fully aware of what you’re doing, and ‘watch’ yourself doing it, while choosing to do it, and yet still have there be this effortless “it just happened” quality.

For most people, the moment conscious choice is involved, the ‘trying’ or ‘doing’ process takes over: you are now deliberately performing the action, in order to get the result that you decided on. In Alexander Technique, you learn how to have choice without the accompanying deliberate/conscious performance aspect. You make choices, but after the choice is made, the effortless process takes over.

The way this works is: see what happens if you don’t try to ‘do’ anything. This is not the same as ‘do nothing’, like sitting around. It’s noticing when you are trying to do something, and then choosing not to, or choosing to ‘do’ less. It’s giving yourself space, letting yourself pause before engaging in a habitual reaction, and declining to do that reaction.

To learn this intuitively via a simple exercise, try Michael Ashcroft’s non-doing floor exercise.

Including the pause and having expansive awareness give non-deliberate action a different kind of quality from mindless fiddling. It’s no longer running you against your will; you are no longer a helpless stimulus-response machine. Rather, this kind of unconscious action + awareness means you can act harmoniously with your intentions and with the world around you. The whole mind-body(-world) system gets into sync.

If you juggle, you may have had this experience: you don’t try to catch each throw, your hand just moves to where it needs to go. (This is especially obvious if someone throws a ball at you without warning. Your unconscious mind does a split-second calculation and moves your hand where it needs to go.) Likewise if you play tennis.

Fiction writing can also have something of this experience. You can find yourself surprised by what comes out of your own characters’ mouths. You’re ‘watching’ them; they ‘have a life of their own’.

When editing, many writers switch modes where they ‘make’ their character say something (it feels like you created the dialogue, rather than the dialogue coming from outside you). But with non-doing, you can edit in a different way: instead of putting words in your characters mouthes, you can decline their first response, pause, and then see what else they might say.

This is the same phenomenon as when games of “Should Have Said” in improv comedy go well. Should Have Said is a game where audience members can at any time yell “Should’ve said!” during a scene, and players must change the last thing they said to something totally different yet still fitting in the scene. Magical moments can happen when the audience keeps “Should’ve said!”-ing a particular line to exhaust the player’s existing ideas: the next line they say is spontaneously generated from nothing — surprising even the player — to the cheers and guffaws of the audience.

When all the ‘doing’ (effortful) actions have been exhausted, what happens is a natural ease that is in harmony with your intentions. There’s no longer any internal conflict or friction, so there’s nothing to think about – you don’t react, you just act.

iv. Inhibition

AKA declining the reaction AKA pause+non-do

When you have an impulsive ,’doing’ action, and you pause and decline to do it, this is what Alexander calls ‘inhibition’. It’s inhibiting your automatic, habitual response, giving you freedom to behave differently.

This is not the same kind of inhibition as “social inhibition”, where you tone yourself down in attempt to be acceptable to a social group*. It’s not inhibition as in making yourself small, or suppressing a part of yourself.

If anything, using the technique of inhibiting your ‘doing’ allows you to be a more true version of yourself: it gives you space to really choose, using your full mind. When you have full awareness, your attention isn’t collapsed down on a single point, and you can take into account a range of different information that would help you make decisions — naturally and effortlessly.

[* The word ‘inhibition’ had different connotations before Freud’s use got popularised. Alexander was drawing on the use that predates Freud.]

v. Intentions

There is an apparently paradoxical issue of how to deliberately do something — make a choice — without holding that choice, or ‘trying to do’ it.

Non-doing does not mean ‘do nothing’. It doesn’t mean getting rid of plans, projects, dreams and aspirations. It’s simply a different way of approaching these things.

A whole book could be written on this (and apparently already has been), but here is the basic idea:

Suppose you do actually want to pick up that ball over there. But you don’t want to ‘do’ picking-up-the-ball.

The solution is to set an intention.

[1] Have the intention to pick up the ball. [2] Expand your awareness to include what’s all around you, the room, the route to the ball, and your body inside the room. [3] Notice any reactions of trying to do picking-up-the-ball (like “I am going to march over there and pick up that ball”, or “I am going to get ready to stand up so I can go pick up that ball”, or “I am going to approach the ball to pick it up”) — and decline those reactions. [4] Wait. Patiently hold the intention to pick up the ball. Don’t stop yourself from moving — stopping yourself is another kind of ‘doing’ — yet don’t try to deliberately/consciously move. [5] Let movement happen.

After you’ve declined all the ‘doing’-type actions, if you still have the intention to pick up the ball, you can find yourself naturally moving to bring about the state of the ball being in your hand.

This natural movement feels light and easy, almost trivial. Thoughts don’t get shut down while you’re doing this kind of expanded-attention movement: with some practise, you can find yourself having plenty of space to think about other things, or feel the space of the room, or attend to sensations in your body, while performing the effortless motor action of picking up the ball.

Motor actions aren’t the only thing we can non-do. The same basic structure applies for anything we want to do.


You can think of Alexander Technique as coming in 5 steps, or 5 key ideas:

1. Intention

2. Awareness

3. Pause (take a moment instead of react)

4. Non-doing (actively don’t ‘do’; decline ‘doing’)

5. Spontaneous, effortless action

In the above example, it looks as though I have ‘non-doing’ and ‘pause’ flipped. It’s kind of a repeating cycle, because when you decline one ‘doing’, another reaction can come up, which means you have to pause again.

Inhibition can be thought of as the pause, or pause+decline. Non-doing is the result of pausing+declining. So, they sort of bleed into each other.

The exact ordering doesn’t matter so much. So you could think of it going like: expand awareness, intend something, pause instead of react, notice ‘doings’ and non-do them, wait for more to come up and repeat the ‘pause’ step, do this until all the ‘doings’ are out of your system, then allow yourself to act spontaneously.

You can even non-do while having contracted awareness! It’s just that the spontaneous action would be limited to the parts of you and your environment that you’re aware of.


In this brief overview, I don’t go into exactly how to put this into practice (save for the brief exercises I link to), nor do I cover troubleshooting. But I hope this gives the theoretical background to try stuff out yourself, read up on it, or get an Alexander Technique teacher to help put it into practice.

🐤 Why people get stuck

[🐤 Twitter thread]

Most people’s creativity is being used to thwart themselves and others, most of the time.

The mystery is how outliers like Elon Musk and David Deutsch have their minds structured to devote >50% of their creativity to solving rather than entrenching problems.

(Despite appearing to have almost opposite psychologies/temperaments! So ingenuity cannot fundamentally be about things like “be a ballsy power player and energetically do all the hard things” or “be a hermit, don’t be hard on yourself, follow whatever’s fun”. It must be deeper.)

The sad thing about using creativity to thwart others is that we’re not even doing it intentionally.

We just follow scripts (anti-rational memes) — hoping to avoid being punished ourselves.

Whenever we are scared, hurt, angry, upset, and we speak from that place (the place of “you are not on my side”), our creativity has been hijacked by a coercive script.


It gets worse:

Coercive scripts (anti-rational memes) sabotage our ability to tell we aren’t feeling good.

And prevent us from recognising why not feeling good is significant.

(Despite as a child seeing this suffering/deadness as horrific.)

It’s horrific not just because we are unknowingly using our creative effort to hurt and sabotage the creativity of others when we follow these fear-driven scripts.

It’s horrific because we’re doing it to ourselves — thereby acting to prevent ourselves from doing anything else.

Not feeling good is significant because that’s when we’re running these scripts.

That’s what ‘not feeling good’ is:

For most people, most of the time, ‘not feeling good’ = being actively stuck in parasitic coercive scripts.

When ‘not feeling good’ is not coming from our own coercive scripts, it’s either:

a) A simple fight against nature / the unknown (not out to get you; passes when solve it or do something else)

or

b) Coming from someone else’s — i.e. the entrenchment process is happening now.

So what is to be done?

1. Have compassion. Blaming oneself or cursing others is just part of the game.

2. Play something else. What do you really want to be up to in life?

3. Notice. Nonjudgmentally notice these patterns in yourself and others. Back to 1.

🐤 Coercion can’t make you think particular things

[🐤Twitter thread]

Coercion (anti-rational memes) works by setting up blocks that repel you from thinking certain things.

It doesn’t make you think particular things — only creativity can do that.


Creativity boosters (that should be used all the time but get forgotten):

Follow fun. Navigate by “towards”. Try things. Think what’d be awesome, not just ‘un-meh’.


Why does this fit with the critical, problem-solving approach?

If you’re feeling bad, the “towards” approach can unhook you from that block.

Meaning you’re free to use criticism productively/unpainfully. Because you’ve got places to go, instead of only things to avoid.


In science, we need a better rival theory in order to refute anything. If a theory seems faulty, we still have to stick with it until we’ve got something better.

Likewise with personal problems, it’s no use to just criticise and move away. You need something to go towards.

🐤 Discipline is fighting yourself

[🐤 Twitter thread]

‘Self discipline’ is a patch for being conflicted about what you want to do.

Often, productive people are interpreted as ‘having discipline’: able to force themselves to do the work even when it’s unpleasant.

But creative productivity only ever works in spite of that.


“Discipline is remembering what you want.”

When that works, it’s not ‘discipline’; it’s getting less conflicted.


The real answer to productivity and motivation is to resolve the conflicts you have.

Once unconflicted about what to do, even hard work is effortless, motivation-wise.

(And fun. #ReasonIsFun)

It becomes effortful to not do it. It pulls you in and demands you keep working.


Discipline is fighting yourself.

Wasted energy. Wasted creativity.

Put that instead into figuring out what you actually most want.

Solve problems in doing what you want with reason, not force.


It sounds cute and simplistic — like meaningless motivational self-help talk — but the world really does work this way.

Problems really are soluble. What’s stopping you really is conflicting ideas. Force is trying to reach answers/truth using brute authority instead of reason.


“I’ve tried everything! Self-discipline, Beeminder, social media time-outs, Tony Robbins, waking at 5am… Nothing seems to work!”

Cool, have you tried reason?

Answers

I was interviewed! And by ‘interviewed’, I mean that I answered a bunch of online quiz questions and pasted them in here. (Written 2017-2018.)

Multiple-choice questions, with my comments in quotes.


Do you believe that people need bad things to happen to them in life in order to truly appreciate the good things?

No: “Suffering is a soluble problem, not an eternal inevitability. Experiencing bad things makes it harder to enjoy good things, not easier.”

Do you find science to be interesting?

Yes – Social Science (Psychology, Sociology): “’Social science’ isn’t science; it’s philosophy. But it is interesting.”

How do you feel about kids?

Kids are precious—they love me and I love them!:Wow these answers are dehumanising. Even the only positive answer has an ‘othering’ air. Conventional parenting attitudes are weird.”

Generally speaking, do you believe that violent revolution is a legitimate method of effecting fundamental social, political, and economic change?

No: “ “You cannot have a rational discussion with a man who prefers shooting you to being convinced by you.”
— Karl Popper

“If he who employs coercion against me could mold me to his purposes by argument, no doubt he would. He pretends to punish me because his argument is strong; but he really punishes me because his argument is weak.”
— William Godwin”

Let’s say you don’t agree with a law, one that won’t change. Which is your responsibility?

Obeying it until it changes: “Generally, it’s good to obey the law, for various reasons. (Notably, because we have an error-correcting legal system which we want to generally work and not be impeded.)

There are some laws where breaking it would be self-correcting. For example, if you park illegally at the wrong time of day, you might be happy to pay the fine, and assuming you’re not obstructing anyone, this is no problem.

Then there are rare cases where the law is immoral. There, it’s complicated. You’d have to think about the harm you’d do to obey the law vs the harm to the fabric of society by disrespecting the law. Break it in secret, to avoid it messing with the generally-functional system as much? Or break it openly, and petition change? Lots of issues to consider.”

Do you get into the spirit during the holiday season?

Yes, I’m obsessed with the holidays: “’Obsessed’ is an exaggeration, but holiday traditions are fun. ^-^ (Needless to say, not all of the traditions associated with holidays are good. I’ll take my memes bespoke, thanks.)”

Do you feel obligated to help your fellow human beings?

No: “Not obligated (with some exceptions), but helping people is often right or good to do.

Exceptions for when one has an obligation to help people:
1. If one has voluntarily or by action taken on that obligation.
2. When doing nothing is equivalent to joining in with evil. (E.g. sheltering a Jew in WWII.)

Another sort-of exception is if there’s a cause one wants to succeed (even if one’s contribution is minimal, it’s still meaningful to stand for something). That’s optional rather than really an ‘obligation’, though.”

Should freedom of speech allow the expression of all viewpoints, even extreme and widely-offensive ones?

Yes: “The exception to this is incitement to violence.”

Which of the following philosophies do you most closely follow?

Treat others as I would like to be treated: “None of these answers reflect my actual philosophy, which is: Treat others as they would like to be treated.”

Is it possible for something to hurt no one — physically, mentally, or in any other way — and for it still to be morally wrong?

Yes: “If you were on a desert island, you may wonder, “Should I spend my time trying to find a way off the island, or instead put effort into enjoying my time here?”

There is a meaningful answer to this question. It might be that neither of these two answers hurt you (or anyone else), but there is an answer to which is in fact better for you. (Better/should = moral statement = the less-good choice is ‘morally wrong’, i.e. the wrong choice.)”

Does hanging out in an empty field, in the middle of no where, at 2am to watch a meteor shower sound like fun to you?

Heck yeah! I’ll bring the hot cocoa/coffee/tea: “If you answer no, you have no soul. 💫☄✨🔭😍☕️”

How does owning pets compare to raising children?

The two are nothing alike: “Children are people.”

Is evil necessary in the world?

No: “Error is inevitable; evil is not.”

If someone wrongs you do you exact revenge?

No: “Punishment is always bad, and never helps.”

Would it be a good idea to pass a law requiring people to take a course and pass a test before being allowed to have a child?

No: “Why would the government know what makes for good parenting? What would such a course even look like? (How many times would it specify to strike the child for punishments?)”

Do you believe that scientific investigation is the only effective method to gain meaningful knowledge about the universe?

No: “Philosophy is also a thing.”

Should the death penalty be abolished?

Yes: “Except for extreme circumstances.

Death is irreversible. The worse a crime is, the more likely it is that someone will want to study that criminal (to study the psychology of such people, or get information on the crime or other crimes). Death means the possibility of all that knowledge is gone.

Also, in a civilised society, no one should enjoy the job of executioner. A criminal about to be put to death is a criminal at his most harmless.”

Do you believe that morality is completely relative?

No: “Morality is context-depedent but objective.”

Should machines that demonstrate human or higher levels of intelligence be granted legal rights?

Yes: “Yes, and they will be. We’ve known since Turing that those are people.”

Do you think the standard of western morality has declined in the last thirty years?

No, things are better now: “In a two-steps-forward, one-step-back kind of way, but progress is real:
– Beating children is illegal in schools (in the UK and most US states)
– Homosexuals are no longer excluded from mainstream society
– FGM and forced marriage are now illegal
– Smartphones are part of everyday life for everyone, instead of making you a social outcast.”

Should the government require children to be vaccinated for preventable diseases?

No: “With the exception of quarantine laws to prevent epidemics.

Vaccinations are a good idea. But better persuade people (including children) by reason, rather than force.”

A college-level education is…

Unnecessary: “The whole idea of ‘levels’ of education is a bit strange. Real/natural/uninhibited learning shoots out in all directions. Someone who is learning out of their own interest will have some subjects covered quite deep, some barely touched, some grazed, and there’ll be some that aren’t even on any curricula. The more creative and problem-driven learning is, the more incomparable it’ll be to someone else’s creative problem-driven learning.”

Would you prefer good things happened, or interesting things?

Good: “False dichotomy! Bad things are inherently less interesting than good things — there are many more ways to be wrong than right.”

How often do you keep your promises?

Whenever possible: “Either a promise will turn out to be the right thing to do, in which case you’d do it anyway and making the promise is pointless; or it will turn out to be wrong, in which case it would be wrong to keep the promise.

It’s better to avoid making promises in the first place. Instead, talk about what you think is right.”

How important is it to be able to ‘agree to disagree’?

Very important: “It’s part of the Anglosphere traditions of autonomy and freedom.

There’s an urban legend that our Parliament is spaced with the leaders and the opposition seats at two swords-length apart: if things get heated, they won’t be violent. ‘Parliamentary language’ is another such tradition: addressing all questions to the Speaker instead of persons, not swearing, etc. (The point there is to avoid raising the emotional temperature of the argument.)

These are traditions of how to resolve conflicts peacefully, instead of by force.

This “two swords’ length” thing is the epitome of agreeing to disagree: If they don’t agree, that’s the end of it!”

Do you believe there is some unique human quality that separates us from animals?

Yes, but it has nothing to do with God: “Sky scrapers, for instance.”

Which is closest to your reaction to foul language?

It doesn’t bother me at all: “Maximise expressive power of language — have a full range, instead of blocking oneself from using certain words, or using certain words in place of other more accurate ones.”

Is it better to live by your own moral standards and allow others to live by theirs, or is it better to press your moral standards upon other people?

Live and let live: “Both are approximations.

People should be able to do what they want. To do this, people need freedom and protection from those who may forcibly prevent them from doing what they want. “Live and let live” is a shorthand for “pursue your life; don’t meddle in other people’s lives”. But if someone does meddle in your life, you need a policy of what to do (like have laws against murder and other kinds of force); “live and let live” is impossible taken literally.

The alternative answer, “Press those morals!”, is a worse approximation. It captures part of it — the necessity for dealing with when “live and let live” fails, such as “don’t murder”. But if pressing morals is the fundamental thing, 1) that doesn’t mention pursuing your own values in life (which “Live and let live” does), and 2) it doesn’t distinguish between stopping innocent people from doing innocent things and stopping guilty people from doing guilty things.

Dictatorship is compatible with “Press those morals!” but not “Live and let live”.
On the other hand, pacifism is compatible with “live and let live” and not the other.”

Do you loathe or tremendously dislike most of the people you encounter?

No: “People are good things.”

Can you think of someone that you truly hate, not just severely dislike?

No: “Unless we include historic figures. Like Goya.”

Do you feel a need to own the most up-to-date electronic gadgets?

Sometimes: “’Need’ is a bit derogatory. The world isn’t static. New gadgets arise because people find better ways of doing things. That’s good. Not all upgrades are relevant to my problems, hence not ‘Always’. But normally, I agree with the updates!”

Do you think the basic instinct to survive and reproduce fundamentally drives every decision a person makes?

No: “The mind isn’t organised into ‘fundamental drives’.”

Do you believe reason is more important than emotions in solving problems?

No: “It’s usually as important — you need both:

If your emotions are telling you something different from your reason, and you override them, you’re ignoring a source of criticism. That’s irrational — it’s a dogmatic/authoritarian approach. It’s not interested in the truth of the matter. It’s assuming the emotions are wrong and using force instead of persuasion.

Also, it depends on the problem. Some are more emotions-relevant, some less.”

Is there anything that science will never be able to explain?

Yes: “Yes, non-scientific fields. Like philosophy.”

Do you believe that art and literature courses are important to students, even if they are majoring in other fields?

I like them, but don’t know if they’re important: “People should only learn what they’re interested in. Not stuff other people deem ‘important’.”

Do trees have souls?

No: “No, but feet do have soles.”

Do you get angry when you lose a game?

Never: “Get curious! (Be like Kripp)”

Are you an adventurous eater? Do you like to try new foods and cuisines?

Yes, all the time: “Curiosity + fallibilism + refining aesthetics tastes (in this case literally)”

What is your opinion of sarcasm?

Sarcasm is formulaic and lazy: “Sarcasm is irony with cynicism added and depth removed. Cynicism is boring. Irony is awesome.”

Is intoxication ever an acceptable excuse for acting stupid?

No: “’Stupidity’ just means bad ideas. Dumb chemicals can’t change your ideas. And anyway, your ideas are legitimate and you don’t need an excuse. Act however you want.”

If you had to guess, do you think humans will go extinct in the next 1000 years?

No: “ “We have, as Popper put it, a duty to be optimistic – in general, and about civilization in particular. One can argue that saving civilization will be difficult. That does not mean that there is a low probability of solving the associated problems.” — David Deutsch”

Do you believe in the power of prayer?

No: “Not divinely, no. But it might have a positive role in the lives of the people who do it.”

Which of the following best describes your typical demeanor?

Cheerful! I have a positive outlook: “Problems are soluble!”

Can anything be made the subject of a joke?

Yes, anything can be funny in the right light: “Some subjects/jokes aren’t funny (so I’m doubtful that anything could be funny in the right light). But everything should be open to jokes — the tradition of criticism is important.”

Do you believe morality is universal, or relative?

Universal: “I’d rather say morality is objective — there’s a truth of the matter, choices aren’t arbitrary — but context-dependent.

‘Universal’ can sound like there’s a list of moral duties, which are always right regardless of circumstance. Even if there were such moral laws (abstract truths, like the laws of physics), I don’t think we have a good, exceptions-free understanding of what the universal principles are. But we do have some pretty useful approximations.

In any given circumstance, there will be better and worse choices, which will make your life better or worse. (I don’t think morality is just about how your choices affect other people. Alone on a desert island, you can still screw up your own life or make it awesome. Be a friend to yourself!)”

Which of the following types of intelligence do you value most?

Logical / Mathematical: “Strictly speaking, there aren’t different kinds of intelligences. All knowledge is connected.

Being good at any given thing will help with being good at other stuff, not hinder. Someone sufficiently good at art will also be logical — if they weren’t, that would inhibit their progress in art. Being bad at interpersonal stuff will inhibit progress across the board (since people are major sources of ideas/criticism).

Being able to understand another’s thoughts and feelings is pretty vital. But I think what most people have in mind when they read ‘social’ is something like more ‘conventional’, or having skill in dealing with people when they’re similar to each other. People who are thought to have high social skills often struggle with less social / more individual people.”

Do you often find yourself worrying about things that you have no control over?

No: “When you’re worrying about something you have no control over, what’s really going on is that part of you thinks maybe you do or could have control over it. (Either that, or you’re in some kind of irrational state of mind.)

People don’t normally get annoyed about having to obey the laws of physics. Reality is what it is — it’s pointless to want it to be something that it isn’t.

That said, a lot more things are in one’s control to change/improve than most people think. But that’s still not a worrying thing, that’s a yay thing!”

Genes Don’t Control People

[From a discussion about whether there’s a ‘natural’ tendency to be monogamous or polyamorous.]

The whole idea of it being ‘natural’ or not is specious. We’re humans. We can think about these things. We can judge that some of our inborn ideas are actually not good — or flawed — and we can change our responses to them.

We frequently go against our inborn desires:

  • hunger (Most people don’t eat when they’re hungry. Many people overwrite their hunger signals and are either too thin or too fat.)
  • pain (People sometimes enjoy the pain of exercise. One can often ignore pain. Some women cite “pain is beauty” when they wax their body hair.)
  • sex (As William Godwin pointed out: you can be completely into it, but if someone tells you your father has died, you’ll forget all about it, because reason says your father dying is more important than sex.)

These examples are the most basic, direct things we’d expect evolution to spend most of its resources on. We’d expect these to be the strongest, most important inborn imperatives. Evolution has to get this right before it moves on to other, more minor things.